Transform Africa 2013 Summit: AfDB Launches Connect Africa Report

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“Transform Africa 2013, a major four-day Pan-African Information and Communications Technology (ICT) summit opened in Kigali, Rwanda on 28 October 2013 , with the launch of a study commissioned by the African Development Bank (AfDB) on  how to  fully integrate Africa into the cyber world.

The 87-page study, titled “Connecting Africa: An Assessment of Progress Towards the Connect Africa Summit Goals,” assesses the progress made by African countries in realizing the goals of the Connect Africa Summit held in Kigali, Rwanda in 2007.

Presenting the study on behalf of AfDB President, Donald Kaberuka, Vice-President of Operations: Infrastructure, Private Sector and Regional Integration, Gilbert Mbesherubusa, noted that while African countries have made considerable progress in the ICT sector, they need to work harder to take the campaign to the next level.

Based on extensive analyses of developments within the ICT ecosystems in Africa and building on the report of the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), the report provides recommendations for the AfDB and other partners to bridge the missing links in broadband infrastructure, rural access, pricing, policy and regulation, ICT skills, e-applications and e-services; under the five goals identified at the 2007 summit:

  • Interconnect all African capitals and major cities with ICT broadband infrastructure and strengthen connectivity to the rest of the world by 2012.
  • Connect African villages to broadband ICT services by 2012 and implement initiatives such as community telecentres and villages phones.
  • Adopt key regulatory measures that promote affordable, widespread access to a full range of broadband ICT services.
  • Support the development of a critical mass of ICT skills required by the knowledge economy through the establishment of ICT centres of excellence and ICT-capacity building and training centres.
  • Adopt a national e-strategy including a cyber-strategy security framework and deploy at least one flagship e-government service in each country in Africa by 2012.

116 million mobile broadband subscribers in Africa

Mbesherubusa noted that Africa’s communications infrastructure has substantially improved over the last six years with the number of mobile SIM cards sold on the continent increasing almost three fold since 2007 to 810 million presently,  representing 380 million unique subscribers.

“Importantly, there has also been a substantial increase in mobile broadband users. Data from the GSMA shows that there are around 116 million mobile broadband subscribers in Africa now, representing a penetration rate of about 11% of the population compared to just 0.35% in 2007.

The fact that there has been such strong growth in mobile connectivity has been, in part, a consequence of investment in the underlying passive infrastructure, such as telecoms towers, to aid cost-efficient deployment of networks across a broad area.  The African Development Bank has, itself, provided funds for shared telecommunications infrastructure,” he said.

The report also underscored Africa’s considerable progress in the area of broadband connectivity, with a plethora of new submarine cables installed  in East Africa (TEAMS, EASSy and SEACOM for example) and in West Africa (WACS, ACE, Main One, Glo 1). 

It noted that the Bank lent substantial financial support to a number of these projects adding that international bandwidth is expected to exceed 50 Terabytes per second in 2014, a sufficient capacity in the medium term to meet the demand of governments, businesses and private users.
All the regional economic communities (RECs) are involved in the deployment of broadband infrastructure such as the EAC – Broadband Infrastructure Network (EAC-BIN) and the ECOWAS Wide Area Network (ECOWAN), the report says.

There has also been some improvement on the connection of African villages over the last six years. The study notes that mobile network coverage in rural areas had improved from 65% in 2007 to the point where almost every single village in Africa is served by at least one mobile operator.

Progress remains modest

However, progress in creating enabling regulatory frameworks has remained modest in Africa over the last six years, with the number of independent regulators increasing by only two countries from (38 to 40) since 2007.

Similarly, ICT skills development in Africa remains limited, despite several countries’ efforts to develop ICT skills, the report says, citing the first five Centres of Excellence in ICT established in Rwanda, in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University, as a good example of the type world class ICT education in dire need.

The report also highlights remarkable changes in the national ICT policy development over the last six years. It notes that countries that have developed national ICT strategies had risen from 32 to 48 between 2007 and 2011, citing countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, Togo, Gambia, Gabon, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola in this category, although  their implementation has not  been as good as in the cases of Egypt, Mauritius and Tunisia, that have shifted from a “wish list” of ICT applications to catalytic interventions in infrastructure, policy and regulation, skills and applications that have made a substantial progress.

Vice President Mbesherubusa explained that although Internet penetration has more than doubled since 2007, more than 80% of the African population is still unconnected, in terms of “availability” and “affordability (lack of backbone networks and  interconnecting cities) with over 30 countries affected on the continent.

He said the ongoing Transform Africa Summit was of immense importance as it would address the gains, challenges and how to harness ICT’s potential to drive inclusive economic growth on the continent.

“Being SMART in our use of technology to support everything we are striving to do will be critical.  Taking ICT out of the ICT Ministry and embedding it in our behaviours and all our activities is the future,” he concluded.

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